Reality is a dance between making plans, and responding to small and large disruptions. So to embark on a spiritual journey is to grow our capacity to practice, to plan, to wait outside, and then to embrace all that reality offers.
A spiritual practice is meant to help us develop the skill of embracing what comes to us as an opportunity to wake up. A spiritual practice helps us to be fully present and to pay attention. If we have not been practicing, we can get thrown off by life’s disruptions, become grumpy and anxious, shut down or reactive. In fact, that can happen even when we have been practicing. But I know from long experience that the more I practice this embrace of reality, the easier it becomes to shift from resistance to curiosity, from crankiness to compassion.
The spiritual journey is our search for an immediate, personal experience of the larger reality, our connection to the earth, to each other, and to the Mystery that connects and upholds life. Let us go back for a moment to an experiment.
Notice the energy in your heart right now.
If you wish, create an invitation in your heart, open your heart to experience the larger Mystery that connects and upholds all life.
As feelings come up, imagine your breath filling and embracing those feelings. Be present to what emerges in your heart. If you feel emptiness, breathe into the emptiness. If you feel joy, breathe into the joy. If you feel confused, breathe into the confusion.
The beginning and the ending of spiritual practice are in paying attention to the energy of the present moment.
After the wondrous, after the experience of Mystery, we must always come back to the everyday. In pagan rituals, they say we must “ground the energy.” We remember to eat food or have a drink of water. In Buddhism, there is a saying, “after the ecstasy, the laundry.” Sanity is being able to switch our consciousness from the mysterious to the ordinary. Life is not static, it keeps moving. We are not meant to remain in emptiness or in ecstatic feelings. We are meant to be fully involved in all that life is about. Says one Western lama, “What became clear is that spiritual practice is only what you’re doing now. Anything else is a fantasy.”
The most important grounding is how our spiritual experience affects the rest of our living. In the end, we may ask, What is spirituality for? I would answer that our experience of the Mystery that connects and upholds life is meant to bring greater power and resources into growing in community with all that lives. Authentic spiritual practice will energize us for greater kindness, compassion, peace, and humility. May it be so.
Quote from Jack Kornfield, After the Ecstasy the Laundry, (New York: Bantam, 2000). p. 126